Is the Family Research Council shooting a hate crime?

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

FBI officials said Thursday that the shooting of a security guard at the Family Research Council's D.C. headquarters on Wednesday may fall in the "hate crime/terrorism nexus," depending on the shooter's motive.

FRC is a socially conservative Christian advocacy organization that opposes gay marriage and abortion, among its other causes. In an interview on Fox News Thursday, FRC President Tony Perkins said he thought the attack should be classified as "terrorism," but some other commentators have suggested that the shooting may also qualify as a hate crime, if it can be proven that the attacker was targeting the group's religious beliefs.

Suspected shooter Floyd Lee Corkins II "has strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner," according to his parents, and Corkins is said to have yelled that he did not like FRC's politics before opening fire. He was also found with a backpack that contained more than a dozen Chick-Fil-a sandwiches, which could be a reference to the chicken chain president's very public opposition to gay marriage.

Jack Levin, a sociology and criminology professor at Northeastern University who has written books about hate crimes, tells Yahoo News that he thinks it would be hard to argue that Corkins was targeting the group for their religion, rather than for their political beliefs, based on the facts. The federal hate crime statute doesn't include political beliefs in its list of protected categories.

"Liberalism or conservativism is simply not a protected category under the federal law," Levin said.

However, the District of Columbia is one of a few localities that includes political beliefs in its hate crime statute, according to an analysis by Yahoo News' own Chris Wilson. (In Washington, "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibility, physical disability, matriculation, or political affiliation" are all in the definition of a bias-related crime.)

It's possible then that D.C. could charge Corkins with a hate crime, while on the federal level, authorities charge him with domestic terrorism, which is specifically directed at politically motivated crimes. (The U.S. Patriot Act defines terrorism as a dangerous action that is intended to intimidate or coerce a "civilian population," influence government policy by intimidation or affect a government's actions by "mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping." Terrorism can be the work of one isolated individual, or a larger network of criminals.)

But the FRC might not necessarily support the local hate crime prosecution tactic. The group opposes all hate crime laws on principle, calling them "Thought Crime laws," and has singled out the sexual orientation portion of hate crime laws as particularly objectionable.